Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the country director of the United Nations World Food Programme in Afghanistan, has, in blunt and passionate terms, said that she is “terrified for this country” because, as she put it, “the situation is desperate”. McGroarty says 22.8 million people, which is over 50% of Afghanistan’s population, face “serious food insecurity”. Of this number, 8.7 million are “one step away from famine”. McGroarty says that she has met many people, farmers and others, who are “scavenging in bins looking for stale bread to eat”.
In a 20-minute interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, McGroarty says Afghanistan is facing “the worst drought in three decades” which is coinciding with an almost complete “economic meltdown”. She says the result is “despair and huge destitution”.
McGroarty told The Wire “farmers have lost their entire harvest”. She said they do not have an option to work as agricultural labourers. Many farmers she has met said “they haven’t eaten for days”. On top of this, there’s also the fact the economy “has collapsed”. Salaries, she said, “are not being paid”.
In addition, this is all happening as winter sets in and freezing cold temperatures could arrive soon. Temperatures in Kabul are forecast to be -3 on Monday, plunging to -5 by Thursday. McGroarty said “the biggest fear” of many people “is how do we keep our children warm”. She said the price of heating gas has doubled.
McGroarty said, in these circumstances, the World Food Programme needs $220 million a month just for food and nutrition support. That amounts to $110 per person per year for the Afghanistan population. On top of this, the country faces water stress, because of the worst drought in 30 years, farmers need seed and other farm inputs and, finally, there’s a dire need for medical support. None of that is covered by the requirement of $220 million a month. That is only for food and nutrition support.
She said that the WFP has received funds to cover requirements for 2021 i.e. which will last for another 26 days. So far, McGroarty added, “Nothing has been confirmed for 2022.” She said there have been a “couple of discussions” and she added WFP is “close to finalising $195 million” which, if finalised, will almost cover the first month of 2022. However, the remaining 11 months of 2022 are uncovered.
McGroarty told The Wire that the distribution of food brought by the WFP is through “an amazing network of NGOs, both local and international”. However, it’s entirely under the control of the WFP. The WFP has 600 distribution points in Afghanistan.
Asked if the Taliban were supportive or not helpful, McGroarty said: “They stand back and let us do our work.” She added, “If we have a problem they move to resolve it.” She said WFP was getting Taliban facilitation.
Asked how she saw the next three months in Afghanistan, McGroarty spoke of the need to stem “a tsunami of hunger and malnutrition”. She said she sincerely hopes and pleads with the international community to see Afghanistan through the worst of winter.
The above is a paraphrased precis of Mary-Ellen Mc Groarty’s interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire. Though recounted from memory it’s not inaccurate. However, you must see the interview to fully appreciate and be moved by the powerful passion and emotion lying behind McGroarty’s answers. There is a lot of detail in her answers of the plight and predicament of the Afghan people, the hunger and starvation they face, the cold and joblessness they have to battle with and the fact many are literally reduced to scavenging and begging.